I grew up in a small town on the ocean. I remember spending whole afternoons in the waves with my sisters, boogie boarding. Admittedly, lying belly down on a stubby foam board was not as cool as surfing, but we did what we could. We lived for the afternoons where the swells were just over waist-high, and quite manageable to our teenage minds. But every so often, we would stand on the shore, squinting out at the water, uncertainly. We would decide it was not too big, and run in, full-force, stubby board tucked underarm.
But once out there, perspective changed. The waves loomed as giants overhead. The sheer force of water behind them was terrifying. I would misjudge the trajectory of one, trying to float over it, only to have it crest early on me and slam me into the bottom. Ocean water filled my ears, and my sinuses, and contorted my body until I could manage to find, up, and air, and life again.
I learned quickly to duck dive. That is, when the wave was imminent and I was in its war path, I held my breath and dove down, down, under the wave, deep enough to escape the brunt of the kinetic energy of impact. With enough square feet of water between us, the wave’s fury was muffled. After it passed, I emerged cold, salty, and alive, on the other side.
When the next wave came, I remember distinctly the progression in my mind: terror first, then planning. I had to deal with it. I had to decide whether to duck dive into and under the wave, or kick hard to ride over it before it crested, or turn my board around and try to ride it into shore. If I stayed terror-stricken and stunned, I would get smashed, hurt, and may even drown. Decisive action is how you behave and live in the ocean. And, I’ve found, it’s how to deal with the waves of suffering in life too.
A few years ago I had a terrible season of loss. My family lost our livelihood and my husband became crippled with a degenerative hip. My own personal loss was great: I lost our third child over the course of a month to an ectopic pregnancy. I felt every single feeling out there. I made good choices and bad choices. I isolated myself, picked fights with loved ones and drank too much coffee. Then I reached out sheepishly to those I pushed away, and cried into their arms on the kitchen floor, or on the broken sofa, or at the kitchen table. It was overwhelming.
The waves of life.
Each begging a decision. You cannot be neutral about such things. They are too big and too powerful.
A wave of life, a crisis, a time of suffering, forces you to make a choice:
What will you do with all the kinetic force thrust at you in this instance?
From my experience, you can choose one of two things:
- Do nothing. Let the force of the wave crest upon you and slam onto your head. Collapse in on yourself. Blame everyone else for your suffering. After all, this wave is so giant, it’s out of your control. So it’s not your fault. So it must be someone else’s fault. In time you will find that your suffering does not end, or change, or develop. As each swell comes and reliably breaks overhead, you remain squarely in the same place as before. Eventually you will find the results of bitterness, distrust, isolation, and wound-licking.
- Reach out to other people. Reach out to the Lord. The wave is so giant, it’s out of your control. It’s too big to ride safely. Grieve through. Duck dive into the wave, not escaping it (It’s inescapable), but swimming down, and through. Going deep is a gift of suffering. Seeing your depths, and allowing the Lord and trusted loved-ones to dive deep with you, is one of the profound experiences of life. It’s a cracking open, a trust exercise of vulnerability, to allow others to duck dive along with you. In time you will find the result of deepening character, deepening connections with other people, and a deeper trust of the Lord. You will find your lung capacity and heart capacity stretched to stay under for that long. You will find that there is more to you just from living – and fighting to live – through this wave.
“Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me…
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.”
Psalm 42:7, 11
I am utterly astonished at the healing process. The waves have subsided and I have wrung myself dry again. I have gone from surviving, to starting to build a life again with my husband. We had a baby boy nine months ago. He feels like oxygen to my waterlogged lungs. We are planning and dreaming again for our future, acutely aware of the preciousness of our life, our marriage, and our walk with the Lord.
I am wiser now, older, and with more grey hairs in my thirties. I know the swells will rise again, and I have more muscle memory of how to deal with the sheer kinetic force behind them. Pain forces a decision. I cannot stay neutral. I know the results of doing nothing, and I know the results of connecting and going deep. I am the Lord’s and he is mine. I think this I know most of all.